Speaking to the Maltese press today Dr Lawrence Gonzi, the Maltese Prime Minister, made the following statement:
"The government can never ever tolerate a situation where Maltese fishermen going about their work according to local and international law are attacked and hindered."
Sea Shepherd's Captain Watson addresses this statement here:
Captain Paul Watson: "With all due respect Dr. Gonzi, these were not Maltese fishermen going about their business according to the law. This was an unlawful catch, taken after June 14th when the season was closed.
I have some questions for you Dr. Gonzi:
- Is it not much too convenient that this cage contained 800 Buefin caught by eight different Libyan registered seiners all on June 14th?
- How do you explain that ALL eight vessels took their catch on that one day, given that weather conditions on June 14th made it virtually impossible for the taking of tuna.
- Is it a coincidence that weather conditions on the 15th and 16th were ideal for fishing Bluefin?
- How do you explain that we observed numerous juveniles Bluefin in the cage?
- Why would the fishermen refuse to allow us permission to inspect the nets if they contained a legal catch?
- Why is Malta receiving fish taken outside of the European quota?
- Why are these fish being taken in a place where they are not subject to Maltese, European or ICCAT inspectors and then taken to Malta to be fattened on Maltese farms?
Dr. Lawrence Gonzi: "For as long as our fishermen operate according to the law, they will have the protection of the government with all available resources and also the protection of the international community,"
Captain Paul Watson: That is just it Dr. Gonzi, these fishermen were not operating according to the law. They were poaching and since neither Malta nor ICCAT have any authority to inspect the catch in Libyan waters, the Maltese government has no credibility in stating that this catch was legal. Papers can be forged and there were no government observers on the vessels.
Dr Lawrence Gonzi: "We respect the NGOs but no one can justify his cause through illegal means".
Captain Paul Watson: "Again with all due respect Dr. Gonzi, your government does not respect the non-governmental organizations. The Maltese armed forces were more interested in protecting the investment of the tuna companies. How many infractions did they find? Are we to believe that every single tuna caught is legal with the long history of the industry taking well over the quota figures every year. The truth is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society cooperated fully with the Maltese patrol boats and obeyed orders from them and they will I am sure testify to this since we have it on tape that we cooperated with them. When we asked to observe a cage, they allowed us to do so under their supervision and we agree to their conditions. We did not intervene against a single legal cage or fishing operation. Greenpeace may have. Sea Shepherd did not. Sea Shepherd does not protest against legal fishing, we intervene against illegal fishing and in this case, this take of tuna was illegal.
The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin did not ram the cage. We put our bow up to the cage to observe what was inside when the Maltese vessel Rosaria Tuna rammed us in the stern pushing us into the cage. This ramming is recorded on tape from the air. One of the fishermen assaulted the Sea Shepherd crew with a long pole with a curved hook. This is recorded on tape. Sea Shepherd did not use rubber bullets, ammonia or tear gas as the fishermen claim. We repelled the assault with bottles of very smelly rotten butter. It appears that there is a double standard here. When fishermen assault conservationists this is deemed appropriate but when conservationists defend themselves this is considered unacceptable.
What is most important here is that the Bluefin should have been listed as an endangered species by CITES and would have been if not for the economic and political intervention by Japan, China and Malta. The industry is engaged in a fishery that will exterminate the Bluefin as a species.
Dr. Lawrence Gonzi must of course support the tuna farmers. It is an industry that brings in over one hundred million Euros into the Maltese economy although it also takes jobs away from traditional artisanal fishermen, it does however put enormous the profits into the pockets of a very few and those few make sure that politicians are taken care of to their satisfaction.
Within a few years the only Bluefin to be found will be in the large refrigerated warehouses owned by Mitsubishi, where their scarcity will allow the Japanese to set their own price. It is the economics of extinction that diminishment increases the value of an animal, extinction will leave the remaining large supply of frozen fish as a very valuable commodity indeed, and at the same the Mediterranean Sea will be the lesser for it.
As for the injury: the fisherman in question admits to grabbing and attempting to cut the rope and suffered either no injury at all or at worst received a self inflicted small cut or bruise. In a photograph released today by the Times of Malta, the fisherman is holding a photograph of the Steve Irwin and seems to have made an immediate and comprehensive recovery from the injuries he alleges happened just 3 days ago.
I notice that there was not the same level of official concern for the Greenpeace crewmember who was deliberately gaffed through the leg. There is clearly a double standard.
The fish that were released were caught illegally after the 14th of June and were caught in a manner that was not observed nor inspected by Malta or ICCAT. It is a matter of record that we reported this catch to ICCAT and they did not respond nor could they do so because they are not permitted in Libyan waters.